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(506) 223-1327                   San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 156            E-mail us   
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New Web site offers an outlet to victims of bribery
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Business operators beset by crooked officials can now get some satisfaction by reporting the incidents to a new Web site.

The Web site is, which was set up by a non-profit organization called Transparent Agents and Contracting Entities.

Alexandra A. Wrage, president of the organization, is an expert in international bribery and corruption.
Mrs. Wrage
Mrs. Wrage
She is vacationing in Costa Rica with her family, and also has her eye out for signs of corruption. She was fascinated that Costa Rica,
which has a very positive international image, now has four former presidents under a corruption cloud.

Mrs. Wrage said the 3-week-old bribery Web site is a success. Anonymous reports of bribe attempts have flooded into the multi-lingual site and 
involve criminality in some 100 countries, she said Tuesday.
The purpose of the Web site is to keep a running score on bribe attempts to recognize trends and agencies within a country that might be responsible for such demands. Those who use the site do not have to say if they agreed to pay a bribe, and key Internet identification information is deleted by the software, said Mrs. Wrage, a Canadian.

Apart from the Web site, the organization seeks to maintain a list of individuals and firms throughout the world who reject bribery attempts. The concept is not based completely on moral principles. International firms can face millions in damages and fines if they are accidentally wrapped up in a bribery case by an employee or a subcontractor.

U.S. firms, for example, face felony allegations if they pay a bribe according to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Mrs. Wrage calls bribery a "barnacle crime" because it clings to all other crimes like the sea creature clings to ship hulls. And she said she believes that paying a bribe is "like hanging a bullseye on yourself" because crooked officials will come back for more and more.

Her organization is supported by membership fees. But companies must do more than write a check. Each member must undergo a background review and adopt a written policy on bribery, extortion and kickbacks. The firm must also commit to an annual training program on the topic.

Mrs. Wrage is an international lawyer who was in-house counsel for Northrop Grumman Corp. and MCI Communications. She has traveled extensively

Bribe in this case refers to a cash payment, a gift, a kickback, a requested donation to a specific third-party organization, a commitment to hire a specific firm with links to the official for goods or services, etc.

—BRIBEline Web site

bribeline web site
Users of Web site have a choice of languages

around the world. With her in San José is her husband, Stephen Wrage, a political science professor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He is a member of the board of Transparent Agents and Contracting Entities and an expert on military ethics.

Mrs. Wrage said she encourages firms to reject paying bribes. The companies may take a short term hit but rejection of crooked practices send a strong message that the firm will be a good corporate citizen, she said. Usually a firm can recover from rejecting payoffs in 30 to 45 days, she said.

Plus, those companies that "are up to their knees in muck" can't enforce the bribery deal in court. She said she was contacted by one U.S. firm that had paid a bribe but did not get the contract that was dangled before corporate officials. There was nothing the firm could do.

The U.S. Department of Justice is vigorous in tracking down corruption and claims jurisdiction when corrupt deals have very small contact with the United States, such as a single bank transfer, she said. Some non-U.S. citizens are outraged, but the U.S. officials respond that foreign countries have to do more to prosecute corruption, she said.

She has incorporated her views in "Bribery and Extortion: Undermining Business, Governments, and Security," a book directed to the layman to be released at the end of September by Praeger Security International. Those who have endorsed the book includes the legendary Paul Volcker, former chairman of the U.N. Oil for Food Programme Independent Inquiry Committee and former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank under presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 156

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas 
Spencer Zahn of the New York University jazz band plays the base during a performance at Parque Morazán Tuesday. He and his fellow students are in the area for several shows as part of the Costa Rica International Jazz Festival 2007.

Lawyers win preference
in their work at immigration

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A lot of citizens have trouble with the delays and bureaucracy at the Dirección General de Migración.

But lawyers who go there daily insist on a little special treatment.

The immigration department use to maintain a special window just for lawyers who are presenting documents on behalf of clients. But officials closed this window.

So the lawyers did what lawyers do best: They carried the case to court. In this case the court was the Sala IV constitutional court.

The court, by the way, is full of lawyers, and Mario Zamora, the immigration director, has been sanctioned by the magistrates in the past because he will not rubber stamp fake marriages by foreigners with indigent Costa Ricans.

The lawyers pleaded that by closing the window they had to mix with citizens and could only discuss one case each time they arrived to the head of the line. This violated the constitutional principle of efficiency and simplicity in administrative functions, they argued.

The Sala IV bought the argument and ruled that the agency has to reopen the special window for lawyers and grant them preference, according to a summary of decisions released Tuesday by the Poder Judicial.

Ballots are being printed
for Oct. 7 referendum

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones began printing 2.7 million paper ballots Tuesday. These will be used in the Oct. 7 national referendum on the free trade treaty with the United States.

The agency also has authorized the printing of some 268,000 demonstration ballots.

The question on the ballot is not very complex. Voters can mark a box that is titled "no" or they can mark a box titled "Sí."

The printing job will take about two weeks at the Imprinta Nacional and cost about 4.7 million colons, some $9,000.

Some 2,654,627 voters are registered, and 40 percent have to turn out to make the referendum binding.

Torrijos likes trade treaty
and calls it a just agreement

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Panama's president Martín Torrijos Espino said Tuesday night that he was confident and had no doubt that the national interests of Costa Rica and Panamá have been fully preserved in the negotiating process with a constructive spirit and a vision for the future that produced a free trade treaty.

He called the treaty with Costa Rica just and said that the two countries are becoming one market with the potential to generate business that exceeds $2 billion a year.

Torrijos joined Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez in signing the accord at a ceremony late Tuesday afternoon. He also is in town for a meeting of presidents today to mark the 20th anniversary of the peace accords that began to end hostilities in Central America.

Arias noted that the border between Panamá and Costa Rica had no walls and outlined the continuing friendship between the two countries.

16 Costa Rican students
going to Chinese universities

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 16 Costa Rican students are going to The People's Republic of China on scholarship this month. They will begin classes in September.

After Costa Rica dumped its diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the People's Republic has said there are 20 scholarships available each year for Costa Ricans.

Five of the students this year will be undergraduates. Six are graduate students, and five will study Mandarin.

The scholarship awards were announced by Circe Villanueva, director of Cooperación Internacional of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto. The students will be attending state universities of the first level in Beijing and also in Shanghai, she said.

The students involved originally were scheduled to study in Taiwan and Red China picked up the responsibility when it became the only China to be recognized by Costa Rica.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 156

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Arias administration pushes forward luxury home tax bill
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government has nominated its tax plan on so-called luxury homes to be among those measures the Asamblea Legislativa will consider during the session that runs until Sept. 1.

The government seeks to enact a tax of from 0.25 percent to 0.55 percent on homes worth more than 100 million colons, about $192,000. The tax on homes with the lowest value would be about $480 a year. A home worth 1.8 billion colons, about $3.37 million, would pay an annual tax of $18,500 at the highest rate, according to the plan.

However, the proposed law would do more than that. In order to establish the tax, the bill sets up a system of reporting the value of properties that are constructed or sold, based on the sales price. And it requires sworn statements that specify the price.

The requirement to report value once every three years would seem to apply to all homes, condos or apartments even if their value was so low as to escape the tax. The income from the tax is earmarked for the Banco Hipotecario de la Vivienda. which would use the funds to build housing for the poor now living in slums, according to the proposal.

According to figures from the  Ministerio de Vivienda y Asentamientos Humanos there are 182 such slums in the metropolitan area with 116 in San José, 41 in Cartago and 16 in Alajuela. Some 208 slums are outside the Central Valley, according to the ministry.

The ministry reported that by 2004 some  32,797 families were living in slums or makeshift subdivisions, but the number certainly is much higher.
There is another catch to the proposal. The value of a condo would include the living unit's share of the commons areas. And everyone would have to value the improvements to a home such as swimming pools, green areas, sports fields and gymnasiums.

Thee bill as written would require owners of existing homes to conduct an appraisal using the traditional value of a price that a willing buyer would pay a willing seller.

However, the actual value of sales in Costa Rica are clouded because many lawyers do not report true values in order to save their clients future taxes. The only way to evaluate land is via that type of appraisal.

New construction and some existing properties could be evaluated by a cost approach using market prices for things like windows and wood. The  Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos would have a role in that process.

The proposal to tax homes of higher value is part of the government's five-part plan to raise more money. Also proposed is an increase in the income tax, the establishment of a value-added tax instead of the current sales tax, a tax on financial transactions and a tax on corporations.

The free trade treaty with the United States is the government's top priority, and many of these bills have not advanced the way the Arias administration wanted in the legislature.

During so called extraordinary sessions of the legislature, the executive branch sets the agenda. Extraordinary sessions are periods when the Costa Rican Constitution does not require the legislature to meet.

The period from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1 is one of those times.

Regulating agency takes steps to placate unhappy taxi drivers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Licensed taxi drivers are planning a major protest today, and the agency that regulates this business took steps against the owners of illegal taxis Tuesday. The taxi drivers are angry about unlicensed drivers who use a portion of the commercial code to provide contract service to passengers.

At the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos  Fernando Herrero, the regulador general, said that in any future actions against illegal taxis, the owners of the vehicles will be fined as well as drivers.

Taxi drivers, both legal and illegal frequently rent their vehicles, and Herrero said that sanctions usually are fines.

The agency handles hundreds of complaints a year about
taxis, but the figures released by the agency are not clear as to how many of those complaints are about illegal drivers.

In addition to the contract drivers, called porteadores, there are the piratas or pirate drivers who make no pretense about being unlicensed. They may drive the same red color car as licensed drivers, but they usually — but not always — lack the yellow triangle on the door.

Transit police and the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes conduct crackdowns on illegal taxis, but the illegal drivers say they must support their family.

Legal taxi drivers are planning to mass their vehicles to draw attention to their cause. In previous protests they have blocked the highway in the vicinity of Casa Presidencial in Zapote and also the various autopistas.

Judicial panel will not let Quintavalle await investigation at his own home
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Matteo Quintavalle will remain in preventative detention and not be able to spend the time under house arrest.

A tribunal de juicio in Goicoechea made that decision Tuesday after a private session with lawyers and prosecutors. The lawyer had asked the court to let Quintavalle stay at home due to health problems. But the panel extended the preventative detention until Jan. 17, according to the press office of the Poder Judicial.

If Quintavalle follows the lead of a long line of fraud suspects over the last five years, he will seek hospitalization on a floor of Hospital CIMA in Escazú known
affectionately to law enforcement personnel as "La Reforma Dos." La Reforma is the maximum security prison. But in the hospital, well-heeled defendants have access to telephones, family and computers.

A second suspect in the fraud case, Marvin Hernández Zúñiga, was allowed to continue with the restrictions put on him earlier. Among other requirements, he must sign in with the prosecutor every 15 days.

Quintavalle is the high-profile Italian hotel and casino operator who faces fraud and financial intermediation charges stemming from complaints by a growing number of U.S. investors. The sum involved in the complaints is in the millions.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 156

Amnesty chief expresses concern about use of army as police
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The head of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, who ended a week-long visit to México told officials that fighting organized crime must be tempered with strict observance of human rights.

Ms. Khan came to México on a fact-finding mission. While here, she met with President Felipe Calderón, the foreign minister, the minister of the interior and others.

She described Mexico's approach to human rights as "schizophrenic" — advocating an ambitious plan on a global scale, all the while carrying out a haphazard program at home.

"Other governments will turn around and tell them to put their own house in order," said Ms. Khan. "So there's a risk in carrying forward this dual approach, and we hope very much that the Calderón administration will recognize that risk and manage it by seeking to improve the domestic situation."
Ms. Khan singled out the use of the Mexican army in combatting organized crime, which Calderón said he will continue doing in the coming years. She said that military operations must be carried out under strict rules of engagement.

"The Minister for public security on Friday admitted that México does not have clear rules on the use for force even by the police," said Ms. Khan. "And he called for clarification from Congress on that issue. This is absolutely critical if the government is going to bring in the military into policing operations."

Ms. Khan said that President Calderón must consider human rights in planning law enforcement operations.

"My concise message for President Calderón is that he cannot develop a sustainable security strategy without incorporating within it human rights principles," she said.

She said respecting human rights is not only a question of principle, but also an important part of good governance.

Colombian drug kingpin captured in police raid in Sao Paulo
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian police say they have arrested one of Colombia's biggest drug traffickers, wanted on federal drug charges in the United States.

Authorities said they detained Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadia in a raid on an apartment in the city of Sao Paulo.

The United States says Ramirez Abadia is extremely violent and closely allied with Colombia's Norte del Valle drug ring. He is suspected of ordering the killing of hundreds of people in Colombia and the United States. Brazilian officials say Ramirez Abadia is likely to be extradited to the United States.
Brazilian police say he was captured in one of a series of raids across several Brazilian states that targeted drug traffickers suspected of shipping huge quantities of drugs to the United States and Europe.

The Norte del Valle organization was named as the drug ring that sent killers to Costa Rica last month in order to assassinate the security minister and the brother of the president. But that case is still unclear because the alleged hitmen were shipped back to Colombia where they were let go.

The Costa Rican officials were targeted because of their successes in stopping the flow of illegal drugs to the north, they said at the time.

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